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Exclusive interview with award winning blues guitarist and songwriter Mike Zito

By: Ike Riddick

Very rarely do musicans with famous bloodlines and their own bands put aside their individual egos and form a union where playing soulful, heartfelt music is the only goal that matters. Rocking blues, sultry R&B, infused jazz and reggae only touch the surface when defining Royal Southern Brotherhood's musical collaboration of songs on their self entitled debut album. Devon Allman and Mike Zito find a way to blend their dueling guitar leads into a seamless existance while Cyril Neville's soulful vocals solidify the cohesion of the "brotherhood".

Royal Southern Brotherhood is:

Cyril Neville - vocals, percussion

Devon Allman - vocals, guitar

Mike Zito - vocals, guitar

Yonrico Scott - drums

Charlie Wooten - bass

I recently caught up with guitarist, vocalist, and songwriter Mike Zito via telephone to discuss his new band.

Note: Mike Zito and Cyril Neville won the 2010 Blues Foundation's Blues Music Song of the Year Award for "Pearl River", the title track off of Zito's 2009 release.

rMIA: First of all, congrats on the release of the new album and I wish you much success. So just how did Royal Southern Brotherhood come together as a band?

MZ: It was a natural progression. I have known Devon for over 20 years dating back to St. Louis. Cyril and I were under the same management group and Rueben Williams brought us all together down in New Orleans, which was a very happening and great music scene. We started off just jamming together and the next step was booking some dates. Those gigs went really well and then we were asked to write songs together.

rMIA: On the record you guys all took an active role in writing songs, as a songwriter how do you go about writing a song?

MZ: I really don't have a set process or approach to writing a song. I find the mornings the best time after a cup of coffee and just being fresh. Most times songs just come about by me picking up the guitar and singing and it sounding good.

rMIA: Upon reading your bio, you grew up listening to a lot of Van Halen and Led Zeppelin. But as you evolved into an award winning blues artist, who were some of your influences?

MZ: Born in 1970, I grew up listening to 70's and 80's rock. Then around high school I started listening to Clapton, Hendrix, and Stevie Ray Vaughn. I fell in love with blues, especially Johnny Winter.

rMIA: Growing up in St. Louis and working in a guitar shop, what was your "holy grail" or "favorite" guitar in the shop?

MZ: The guitar shop was a neighborhood shop and I visited regularly since I was 8 or so and every guitar in there appealed to me. But the older guys in the shop always told me that if I could play a Telecaster I could play anything. So even today the Telecaster is my favorite.

rMIA: Royal Southern Brotherhood does include a couple of famous last names in Allman and Neville, and you all have other bands or projects you are associated with. How do you guys stay grounded and not let egos take over?

MZ: We all are very grounded. If there were any egos, that got snuffed early. Everything is all positive. We have a spiritual connection, not in religious terms, but in the music we play as it feels good and is not a chore. It's fun. To see Cyril, who is 64, grabbing equipment to load up really puts it in perspective.

rMIA: Just how did the name Royal Southern Brotherhood come to be?

MZ: Our manager asked if we had any suggestions for a name. I said "Brotherhood" as we all share a bond together. But we decided that there were too many references to things such as the Aryan Brotherhood and lots of bad connotations. So our manager came up with "Royal" as it reflects how our guys come from royalty in the music industry.

Upon ending our conversation, I expressed my gratitude for the interview and once again wished the band continued success. Please join me on Father's Day, June 17th at the ArtsCenter in Carrboro for a celebration of music and Royal Southern Brotherhood. Advanced tickets $29 (non-member) and day of the show $32.

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